With one fell swoop of Matt Cutts’ “Tweet” buttongoogle panda 4.0 update meme, the buzz surrounding a shift in search rankings (that had been feverishly growing since last week) was confirmed; Google’s latest algorithmic update Panda 4.0 had been rolled out.

Experts believe the focus of Panda 4.0 is to continue to target sites with low quality content and push them further down the ranking ladder, while simultaneously signaling sites with superior content to increase their ranking position. Many are pointing to the latest update as being a result of Cutts' recent announcement at the Search Marketing Expo this March where he talked about Google rolling out a “next generation” update to Panda.

So, what does this mean for your site and what does it mean for the future of search engine ranking results?

After the first Panda update many small business owners were upset, taking to Google’s webmaster forums to voice their displeasure of big brand sites taking over their search visibility, a side effect of Google initially focusing their spam efforts on content farms. Yesterday’s update could possibly be a step in a direction to positively impact the rankings of small business sites that were left in the wake of the first Panda update.

While Google is apparently doing their part to redeem themselves, webmasters and small business owners need to do their part too. This means being cognizant of your site’s weak spots in terms of content and actively fixing those issues as they arise.

Content is Still King, and Always Will Be

Keep in mind, just being a small business with an aesthetically pleasing website isn’t enough. Panda 4.0 is yet another implication that Google will continue to heavily favor websites with unique and worthwhile site-wide content. Examples of content that could be flagged after the latest update are duplicate content, aggregated content and scraped content from other sites (among many others).

The goal should be to create a website for users, not for Google spiders. This means avoiding keyword stuffing, regularly updating blog posts (or creating a blog if you don’t already have one), avoiding duplicated content of any kind and developing creative content that not only attracts natural links but promotes social shares.

The Scathed vs. Unscathed

The good people over at Search Metrics conducted a preliminary test “based on the organic SEO Visibility” of a number of major sites to see the winners and losers of the Panda 4.0 update. What can be inferred from this initial study is that sites that use aggregation techniques were hit the hardest. This can be sites ranging from web pages that report news and pull stories from other news publications, to coupon sites that post deals from other sources without creating new listings on their own.

Put yourself in the mind of someone visiting your site. Does your content offer something refreshing and new? Say you’re looking for information on a topical news story, would you want to come across an article that you’ve already read that is line for line the same? Of course not, so don’t put your visitors through the same disappointing goose chase. Offer expert insight into topics that people are generally searching for.

One great tool to find this information is UberSuggest. It’s a way of getting keyword ideas from actual user queries in Google. UberSuggest uses your search term and organizes the results 10 at a time by suggesting phrases and keywords that start with each letter of the alphabet. The advantage of using this tool is that you can develop content that you are confident has a high level of organic search interest.

However, you need to avoid creating thin content (content with little or no added value) around the keywords you decide to target. The point isn’t to create pages on your site for the sole purpose of targeting keywords; the purpose is rather to find questions that people are asking, and offer unique insights and answers to those questions.

Webmasters should ask themselves this important question: Does your page add any new data, opinion or entertainment to the conversation? Or is it just regurgitating what others have said already?

Looking Ahead

The writing is on the wall, and has been for some time. If you’re not producing unique and quality content, then you’re getting left behind.

To not only avoid the headache of Panda 4.0 but future algorithmic updates, make sure your website has content that is intuitive to your audience, 100% unique to your site only and that offers exclusive insight. Ideally, what this does in the long run is endear you to Google, and most importantly to your visitors.

This should be nothing new to webmasters who are in tune with the white hat Google universe; however it’s easy to slip out of Google’s graces, and ultimately their rankings. Panda 4.0 was generally mere “flesh wound” in comparison to previous algorithm updates from Google. Let it serve as a gentle reminder that content should continue to be the focus moving forward for webmasters and business

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